Professional Mount M1 CARBON with
Professional Aerial Photography
AirFoil Aviation, Inc
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in 1965 in Quincy, IL. After high school went into engineering and
worked for a company from 1987 to 1999 where I also received schooling to help
in owning and running your own business.
How did your business get started.
I had been building all types of aircraft while still working full time for
companies and university projects. We then decided in 1996 to start AirFoil
Aviation,Inc. an offer a line of powered parachutes to help people trying to
learn how to fly while also producing units to carry payload. This was the start
of the aerial photography side of our business, at this point we were quite
naive on how far and fast UAV and RPV development would go.
When did you start flying
Airfoil Helicam JR Z230 with M1
Mount in action.
I started flying airplanes in 1980 and helicopters in the mid 80s. With technology
everything changed to reliable radios, engines and video equipment.
Basic camera heli setup
You need to decide if this is going to be for fun or a business decision. If
this is going to be a business you would need to look at a gas helicopter. Generally
a 23cc engine is used and if possible a helicopter with 800mm blades to allow
for a safe autorotation if needed.
The helicopter will need to be balanced well and will also need carbon blades
along with athrust bearing on the main shaft. Generally on pitch negative 5
to positive 9 will work well.
Aerial Photography Early 90s
At this point we were covering events as much as possible but with the powered
parachute so we missed probably 90% of the breaking news and promo events. We
decided the basic camera mount design was good but we needed a better carrying
platform so at this point we started building a 33% J3 cub and had the unit
complete in about 30 days.
We basically at a flight time of 3 hours and would take off follow the Cub and
shoot the still shots then fly back home and land. Sometime flights would exceed
We started designing the Helicam on a Kalt nitro helicopter in 1997 and found
this to be more troublesome then originally expected.
Airfoil Helicam JR Z230 with M1
Mount in action.
We went through about 30 prototypes before we landed on the V1 Helicam. The
problem with R/C helicopters is the vibration changes from the rotor head and
tail rotor to the engine and swash plate movement every time you change an input
on a transmitter stick.
At this point we decided the mount should be below the main shaft to cause a
penelum effect and eliminate all of these issues.
The next big issue is the roll or side to side camera angle. Since a helicopter
hovers at about 2 degrees side angle your camera needs to be able to compensate
for that along with the tilt of the helicopter caused by a cross wind.
We were able to address all of these issues but had a limited pan and tilt which
we had hoped could be improved.
At this point the V2 camera mount was released which allowed for the pan and
tilt along with the roll we were looking for and still using the basic proven
original design and we were shooting video part time for our local CBS affiliate
along with promoting the station.
The problem that we now found came between transitional lift and desending into
a hover from forward flight. Rotor blades tend to flutter and until the lead
lag is assumed the helicopter tends to wobble and at times this could be seen
in the video.
At this point we had a decision to make, go into production of the mount full
time or we were offered a contract with our local NBC affiliate to cover breaking
news, promoting events and shooting commercials. We decided to do both with
the help of a great crew.
Airfoil Helicam JR Z230 in action
filming a boat race.
Where does the Helicam stand now.
We now have the best system we have produced to date. Made from carbon fiber
and aluminum with the 360 degree pan we had hoped for and 180 degrees tilt which
was our goal. We still have 6" of helicopter tilt or roll compensation
Where do you go from here.
Two words GYRO STABILIZATION. The basic design of the mount has allowed us to
modify a KS2 and 4 gyro's to stabilize the mount in all three axis and dampen
any quick movements so the video will be smooth at almost all times.
Two things that will be out by end of June are a servo digital delay to allow
for a slow smooth tilt to match the speed of the pan and a basic heading lock
of the pan function while being gyro stabilized. This will let you wag the tail
of the helicopter without the camera knowing any movement is going on.
Flying among the 35-40% fixed wing
Probably the greatest thing that has happened to this company is the pressure
applied by NBC to be available in a minutes notice day or night and to fly in
most all weather conditions. They are pushing us to a new level every time we
cover an event or news story which in the end we make us produce the best product
possible for this use.
In general we prefer the JR GS Voyager helicopter or a ccpm helicopter like
the Benzin trainer that will accommodate 800mm blades. This allows you to have
three or four servo's carrying the load of the helicopter and camera equipment.
I would recommend a PCM receiver even if not using a gas engine.
For radio's we use the JR 8103H and the JR 10X for the helicopter. We pretty
much go for reliability because of the conditions we have to fly in so we use
JR 8311 servos on the cyclic and a JR 4735 on the throttle.
We have tested most gyro's on the market and have found the Futaba 401 and 9253
servo combinations works better than anything else we tested.
We run the gains on 90% and 80% and use the rudder D/R switch to operate the
Our typical cyclic setup is at 100% travel with 40% expo on the aileron and
Insurance has become an issue for some but we have not found this to be a problem
with about 98% of our customers. Most add this equipment on to an existing policy
as a write on. I have found that most customers that are going to succeed in
this industry will have no problem finding insurance and understand this requires
a lot of hard work but in the end is one of the most rewarding jobs you could
have as an R/C pilot.
Most don't understand that we are down linking the video to the ground for the
camera man and he is viewing the actual picture in real time.
We use video glasses for the camera men but also at some demo's will setup another
screen on the same frequency so the public is able to see the system pan/tilt
and zoom which generally to most is unbelievable.
We have personally worked for photographers and production companies but
as of 2002 we are only covering breaking news and promoting events for WGEM
our NBC affiliate.
In the beginning we did real-estate and news paper photo's which is where
I would recommend most start.
John shaking the hand of a fixed
wing flier who very nearly flew into the helicam.
We have covered Dirt bike races, Stock car races, Go cart races, Off roading
events, Snow boarding events, Ice storms, Tornadoes and storm damage, Fires,
Explosions, Construction sites, Bike events, Flooding, Missing persons,
Downed ultralights, We have done field inspections for illegal drug operations,
We have shot commercial footage for WGEM for local commercials for about
every business you could imagine.
As far as what is possible with one of these system its really the sky's
the limit. I have had customers call and tell me stories about a new market
they have started or an idea they had to use the system for and how it took
I think we are just starting to tap into the real reality of what the R/C helicopter
is actually capable of doing from a business sense.
Future product plans.
Several products will be released this year, a camera mount with tilt only for
the typical 30 and 50 size heli's will be released along with an Industrial
system for 30-40lb payloads and you will also see two mounts and complete systems
in a large fixed wing configuration and a smaller unit of the same type.
AirFoil Aviation, Inc